My son, Mickey, remembers my mother’s lemon meringue pie with such intensity that I have never made one for him – don’t want to risk failure. But after years and years of avoiding it I finally decided to take a stab at duplicating my mother’s famous pie. Since Mickey wasn’t around I didn’t have anyone to judge the result based on the “real thing” so I really didn’t have much to lose. Though I have to admit I was more than ready to judge myself but fortunately the end result was pretty darn good.
I have been working at perfecting my pastry – not that I haven’t made okay pastry – but it has never brought mom immediately to mind. I think that I’ve finally nailed it and I hope that I will inspire you to try your hand at what I think is, after brownies and chocolate chip cookies, the quintessential American dessert – even more than apple. This recipe is a combination of the recipes used by my mom and my Aunt Frances, now departed but remembered always through their love of feeding family and friends.
A further note about the pastry. When making savory pies and tarts, I do use lard which you can order online or purchase at most farmers markets (I get mine directly from Gaia’s Breath Farm and you can email them at email@example.com). Whether to use vegetable shortening or butter is your choice – I combine them – sometimes using more butter than shortening when making open-faced French-style fruit tarts.
½ recipe My Near-Perfect Pie Pastry
1 egg white
1½ cups sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
⅛ teaspoon salt
Juice of 3 lemons
3 large eggs, separated, at room temperature (you will use the whites for the
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
Aunt Frances’ Never-Fail Meringue
Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
Lightly flour a clean, flat surface. Place the chilled dough in the center and, using a rolling pin, begin rolling the dough out to a circle about 10- to 12-inches to fit into the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan, leaving an edge for fluting.
Transfer the dough to the pie pan and carefully push on it to make a neat fit, leaving the edges overhanging the pan. Fold the excess dough under the edge and then, using your thumb and forefinger, crimp the dough into a decorative edge. Using a table fork, randomly prick the bottom the pie shell.
Place the one egg white into a small bowl and whisk in 1 tablespoon of cold water. Using a pastry brush lightly coat the bottom of the pie shell with egg white wash.
Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the pie pan and fit it into the shell. Layer the bottom with pie weights, dried beans or rice. Place in the preheated oven and bake for about 15 minutes or until the pastry has set and is lightly browned.
Remove from the oven and set aside on a wire rack to cool.
Do not turn off the oven.
Combine the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir in 1¾ cups of cold water and place over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 6 minutes or until thickened. Stir in the lemon juice and remove from the heat.
Place the egg yolks in a small bowl and gradually whisk in about ½ cup of the lemon mixture to temper. Quickly whisk the egg yolk mixture back into the hot lemon mixture. Return to medium heat and, whisking constantly, beat in the butter and lemon zest. Cook for another couple of minutes or until thick. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.
While the pastry and filling are cooling, make the meringue.
When cooled slightly, pour the filling into the pastry shell, smoothing out the top with an offset spatula.
Spoon most of the meringue on top of the center of the filling and spoon small amounts of the remaining meringue around the edges. Using a spatula or wide knife, gently spread the meringue out from the center to meet the edge, making sure that the entire top is covered and the edge is sealed.
Place the pie into the preheated oven and bake for about 10 minutes or until the meringue is golden brown.
Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting.
My Near-Perfect Pie Pastry
Enough dough for one double-crust 9-inch pie
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, sifted
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable shortening, chilled
½ cup unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled
½ cup ice water
Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process to aerate and blend.
Add the shortening and butter and, using quick on and off turns, process just until crumbly. With the motor running, add the water and process just until the dough begins to ball.
Scrape the dough from the processor bowl and divide it into two equal pieces. Wrap each piece in plastic film and refrigerate for about 30 minutes to chill before rolling. The dough may also be frozen; thaw before using.
Aunt Frances’ Never-Fail Meringue
1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon cold water
3 large egg whites
6 tablespoons superfine sugar
Combine the cornstarch mixture with ½ cup cold water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes or until the liquid is clear. Remove from the heat and set in a pan of ice water to cool quickly. Stir frequently to keep the mixture liquid.
Place the egg whites in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the whip. Begin beating on low to froth. Increase the speed and continue to beat, alternately adding the cooled cornstarch mixture and the sugar, beating until stiff and shiny.
Use a directed in the pie recipe or for any dessert requiring a stiff meringue.